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Heirloom [Poetry]

By Jill McDonough

  • The New York Times reveals a man has bought,
  • at auction, a forty-five hundred dollar mummified
  • hand. Hopefully it doesn’t have any bad
  • seeds attached he said, the sort of line
  • that should be followed with “he quipped.”  We know
  • what he almost means: a curse, a vengeful mummy,
  • rest disturbed, his corpse exhumed, his hand—
  • long ivory nails, frayed linen, delicate bones
  • in a tannic sort-of leather—broken off,
  • and sold at auction. The hand-buyer intends
  • it as an heirloom for his kids.  Across
  • the country, warm toast in our mouths, we shake
  • our heads, turn to our spouses, smack the paper and say
  • It’s a goddamn mummy’s hand, you stupid fuck,
  • as if the hand bestowed its owner with
  • the power to hear collective common sense.
  • The Monkey’s Paw, The Hand of Glory, now in New York
  • it drums its fingers, biding its endless time.



The winner of a 2014 Lannan Literary Fellowship and three Pushcart prizes, Jill McDonough is the author of Habeas Corpus (Salt, 2008), Oh, James! (Seven Kitchens, 2012), and Where You Live (Salt, 2012).  The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fine Arts Work Center, the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, and Stanford’s Stegner program, she taught incarcerated college students through Boston University’s Prison Education Program for thirteen years.  Her work has appeared in Poetry, Slate, The Nation, The Threepenny Review, and Best American Poetry.  She directs the MFA program at UMass-Boston and 24PearlStreet, the Fine Arts Work Center online.




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